But what happens when the pain and ritual are taken out of such a spiritual practice—does it detract from the original’s raw, dangerous beauty? One woman remains in the Arctic with hand-stitched tattoos on her face. In the early 1980s, Adeline Peter Raboff, an Alaskan Gwich’in author, developed an allergy to makeup. Since she was a seamstress, she decided to hand-stitch three lines into her chin with a steel sewing needle, some sinew, soot and some regular Wesson oil. The process took close to a year, in half-hour intervals and waiting up to a month for each section to heal. She always made a ritual of it, dimming the lights, working at the kitchen table with a mirror, while her family stood by.
“The process itself,” says Raboff, “was deliberate. I wouldn’t describe it as spiritual. I was just reenacting something that was done over a century before.” But living with her tattoos over time, she says, “that’s the spiritual practice. Every day I wash my face, I look at my chin, and I think of right attitudes; I think of the Creator and it reminds me of my attitude toward life.”Ashleigh Gaul
Fascinating story about an ancient tradition coming back to life after a century of repression and how people find new spiritual meaning for old forms of expression.